had a really great time at Fantasticon. I was housed in a lovely hotel called Fy & Bi in Valby. We had lovely weather and the walk from the hotel to the cultural center where the con was being held was quite a nice one.
Fantasticon was a very good opportunity to get to meet Danish writers of the fantastic and I loved that I got to find out firsthand about the state of genre in Denmark. I didn’t get to see a lot of bookshops, but I did go back and investigate the shelves of a bookshop I’d visited together with Karin Tidbeck.
The Scandinavian countries seem to share quite a number of things in common when it comes to challenges in genre. I couldn’t help but wish someone would already invent that built-in translator device where you plug yourself in and you can read and understand whatever language is used in whatever country you visit.
Con organizers, Jesper Rugard Jensen and Lars Ahn gave me the lowdown on how genre is doing on the evening that I arrived in Copenhagen. What genre struggles with is the general impression or stereotype that genre has had to struggle with in many places in the world. In Denmark, they find themselves going up against that thing where people call certain things high literature and other things low literature and genre seems to be pushed into this box with a huge label on it marked: FOR CHILDREN.
I’m not very fond of this inclination as I tend to think that literature is whatever’s written and we read it (I’m literal like that). Some literature is bad and some is good. Some I’ll like, some I won’t like. I also think that labels are only helpful for marketing but they don’t really help the people who read.
But not everyone is like me and what these labels mean is that a lot of Danish folk read fantastic and speculative fiction until a certain age and if you’re an adult who still likes science fiction and fantasy, people will look at you askance. This mirrors some of the attitude that I see in The Netherlands and is to some extent similar to what I’ve seen in The Philippines (although it’s gotten much better over there since they’ve started producing soaps that take inspiration from historical characters and epic tales).
Karin Tidbeck told me that this is the same thing they’ve been up against in Sweden. According to Karin, Nene Ormes’s work has played an important role in making fantasy more mainstream as Nene has created this fantastic world that mines Swedish myth and history. I now want to read Nene’s books, but translation takes a lot of time of effort and money and until someone does that, it’s either I wait or learn Swedish. (I wonder if I’ll learn Swedish before translations happen).
A lot of the conversations that we had during the con was about language, the use of language, and translations–the use and the challenges of. It was great to sit in a room with writers and translators who had firsthand experience with translating either their own work or the work of others. It’s heartening to see the spirit of generosity that exists within the community as we see writers who translate work for other writers or translators who give their services all free of charge. It made me wonder though how it would change things if writers didn’t have to expend their energy on translating their work. If professional translators could be paid to do the work, wouldn’t this free up time and energy for writers to write more new work?
While we see very little traffic going outward, where Danish or Swedish writing gets translated into English, there seems to be quite a good bit of translation going on from English. In one of the bookshops, I noticed that they stocked books from popular authors like Neil Gaiman and George R. R. Martin. I think I saw Joe Abercrombie on the shelves and Stephen King, but there’s not really much to choose from and there were no local authors at all–well, at least none that sounded Danish or English. In another bookshop, I did see work from Tove Johanssen and Peter Hoeg. But really not very much that I could identify as genre.
I can’t help but think that there’s some connection missing there somehow. Karin talked about how language colonialism, but I wonder if it goes even deeper than that. I’d be speculating at this point, of course…but I can’t help but think I need to do more real research. It seems to me that there should be some way to break through those false barriers that keep people from reading work that’s locally produced.
I find myself wondering if being translated into English affects the way we receive certain works? Does a local being published in the US or the UK affect our perception of that author’s work? To what extent does publication in the US or the UK influence or affect how we receive the work or perceive the author?
A lot of questions that still need to be asked. It makes me think that there’s still quite a bit of work to be done when it comes to breaking the stereotype that people have attached to science fiction and the fantastic in these countries.
(On an aside, it does seem that Anime and Manga are a big thing in Denmark too. So, there’s that as well.)
My thanks again to the con organizers who invited me. To the Danish writers, translators and readers who generously shared of their knowledge, their experiences and the challenges they face in genre. Thank you. It was hyggeligt. :D